No to voting machines in 2014

If it went ahead it would have cost taxpayers more than $15,000, but in the end, a split decision has done away with the idea of North Cowichan renting electronic vote tabulators for the 2014 local election.

"We’re trying to modernize our election process and this is a very common way," Chief Administrative Officer Dave Devana explained to council Wednesday. "We think it is a good idea as it is an improvement in the way we conduct an election. We do it the old fashioned way and that’s fine, but that’s not the most modern, effective way."

The voting machines being considered are similar to those used for the 2011 election by the Cowichan Valley Regional District, Cowichan Valley School District No. 79, and the City of Duncan.

The rental and associated technical support would cost at least $16,600, with an additional $8,500 needed to pay for administrative support. Contingency funds raise the total to close to $27,000 but other savings and one-third of the overall cost would be recovered from School District 79 as the municipality handles their elections.

No money would be saved in using the devices but the units would "create efficiencies and help streamline the election process," said Deputy Municipal Clerk Mary Beth MacKenzie in a report to council.

"Before coming to North Cowichan, I used electronic vote tabulators in three other municipalities, and highly recommend their use," she wrote. "The machines are easy to operate, and can produce accurate election results within minutes of the close of general voting."

While not difficult for the public to use and convenient for the municipality when counting time rolls around, it means losing a lot of, however brief, job opportunities.

"I certainly have a concern with this," Mayor Jon Lefebure said. "I understand from Ms. MacKenzie’s point of view in terms of having an efficient election…but on the other hand, we hire people," he explained. "There’s actually income going to people to do this work and we get the result. It’ll just be a couple of hours later normally. Although this comes forward to us, I feel we could use that money better elsewhere."

Devana noted that during the last election it took well into the night to count and recount ballots. In the end, the mayor’s seat was decided by just 16 votes. Spoiled ballots could have changed the outcome and the electronic system would reduce the instances of those.

Councillor John Koury was on board with the idea of investigating the expenditure for accuracy and expediency’s sake and also in an effort to "ramp up the sophistication" of the municipality’s operations. "This drastically reduces human error and brings forward those results faster," Koury said. "The time is now to bring in these kinds of systems."

The slim majority of council opted to decline Devana’s request for them to receive the deputy municipal clerk’s report and have staff add the expenditure to the budget – but only as a supplemental item for consideration by council during budget discussions.